Notes on John Rees’ book.
2. Helgel’s Algebra of Revolution
3. The Dialectic in Marx & Engels
4. The First Crisis of Marxism
5. Lenin & Philosophy
6. The Legacy of Lukács
7. Trotsky & the Dialectic of History
a. Capitalism is a contradictory system, e.g. enormous productive output but US has the worst child mortality rate in industrialised countries
b. “At a certain stage of their development the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression for the same thing – the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of the development of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution.” Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859
c. “It is this dislocation between a world that cries out for dialectical analysis & the current paucity of theoretical response that provides the motivation for this book” Rees, p.3
d. What is the dialectic?
i. Not reductionism, where the facts are the inevitable & unalterable properties of the things themselves
ii. Not the product of historical development imposed on the world by our way of understanding it (Hegel)
iii. Not postmodernist, for whom rigid compartmentalisation of image & reality is the starting point
iv. “It is an internally contradictory totality in a constant process of change” p.7:
1. Totality – the insistence that the various seemingly separate elements of which the world is composed are in fact related to one another. The whole is more than the sum of the parts, but also the parts become more than they are individually by being part of the whole. The parts & the whole mutually condition, or mediate, each other.
2. Change – process, constant motion, transformation, development
3. Contradiction – how the change originates. Not a ‘bad infinity’ of an endless series of causes & effects regressing to a cause external to the system, e.g. creationism. The internally generated change is a result of contradiction, of instability & development. Two elements that are in contradiction cannot be dissolved into one another but only overcome by the creation of a synthesis that is not reducible to either of its constituent elements.
v. ‘False friends’:
1. ‘Right’ Hegelians: tend towards a deterministic & fatalistic view, e.g. Plekhanov & the Deborinites
2. ‘Left’ Hegelians: abstract & reproduce Hegel’s idealism, e.g. Western critical theory such as Adorno & Benjamin, also Dunayevskaya & C.L.R. James. They miss the centrality of working class self-activity.
vi. 3 laws of the dialectic (not the only way dialectical development can take place):
1. Unity of opposites, e.g. capitalists & workers
2. Transformation of quantity into quality – changes in elements suddenly results in rapid & complete change
3. Negation of the negation – the future will always contain elements from the past, e.g. class struggle & classless society
vii. Alienation is fundamental because it involves an account of how a subject arises that is able to resolve consciously the contradictions thrown up by social development. Subject-Object, Essence-Appearance.
viii. “The dialectic operates blindly so long…as no class is able to become conscious of the nature of society & exercise enough power to overcome the destructive contradictions encrypted in the capitalist system” p.10
2. Helgel’s Algebra of Revolution
a. “History & Class Consciousness [Lukács], was the greatest work of Marxist philosophy since Marx himself” p.13
b. The Enlightenment:
i. Religious toleration
ii. Science against mysticism
iii. Education against ignorance
iv. Humanism over superstition
v. Francis Bacon (1561-1627) – Lord Chancellor under James I. His biography of Henry VIII insisted on a causal explanation of history rather than a divine one
vi. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) – radical materialist
vii. John Locke (1632-1704) – Treatise on Civil Government (1690) – Essay Concerning Human Understanding – argument against innate ideas was taken as a blow against religion
viii. Isaac Newton (1642-1727) – theory of gravity should that human reason could, by careful observation & experiment, explain the workings of the natural world
ix. François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) (1694-1778)
x. David Hume (1711-76) – A Treatise of Human Nature; scepticism. He saw the human mind divided between impressions& ideas. Our ideas represent, resemble, or are caused by external objects. We have no way of standing outside our perceptions, & so we are unable to carry out a comparison between them & the real object which they are supposed to represent.
xi. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) – Thought society was regressing & that “Civilisation cast garlands of flowers over the chains that men bore”
xii. Denis Diderot (1713-1784) – co-founder of the first encyclopedia
xiii. Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715-71) – denied the existence of free-will
c. German Idealism
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) – Critique of Pure Reason (1781); He set out to provide a renewed intellectual defence of the essential role of reason, intellect, & the mind in composing our picture of the world, denying that this picture was simply the result of passively registering information received by our senses. He agreed with empiricist that all knowledge begins with experience. But this only provides the material for thought. It does not provide the means & methods by which these materials, these raw sensations, are ordered, classified, & related to one another. What was required was the use of rational concepts to interpret the data supplied by our senses. His philosophy is devoted to explaining how it is possible to imagine concepts that are not drawn from experience. He argued that space, time & causation are not characteristics of objective reality but the inevitable & unavoidable mental concepts with which we look at the world. If we did not have an idea of space & time we could not interpret the data supplied by our senses. We can never be sure, even after these impressions have been interpreted by reason, that they actually correspond to reality. There is an unbridgeable gap between the way things appear to us & what Kant called ‘the thing in itself’, the reality that exists independently of our senses & reason. His theory rests upon a fundamental contradiction: that our sense impressions are caused by the action of objective reality, the thing in itself, on us, yet, he also claims that the principle of causality is limited to our consciousness & not a property of the objective world.
d. For Hegel it is the changing spirit of the age, the collective consciousness, which determined that the world must change
i. The contradictions of thought are the contradictions of reality. The power of thought is the power to change reality. The history of the world is the rationality of the human mind working itself out in time. History was reason coming to self-consciousness. It is the collective human consciousness that is important, not that of any particular individual.
ii. The historical method seeks to explain the totality of social change by examining the conflicts & contradictions at its heart. The idea that everything is an interrelated whole & that this totality is in a constant process of change. The birth of the dialectic in its modern form.
iii. For Hegel alienation is the inevitable outcome of all labour, not just the labour of class society
iv. Ordinary language assumes that things & ideas are stable
(‘sublate’ – a process which both produces something new & at the same time preserves in altered form, the old elements from which it emerged)
v. The whole is not just the end result, the whole is the process of development through which the parts come to constitute the whole & in doing so become different than they were in their pre-existing form
vi. The concept of ‘becoming’
vii. Hegel believed that the history of the world mirrored the unfolding of human consciousness. This is the root of his idealism…although he understood that Hegel had struck an important blow against Kantian dualism by asserting that thought & reality were part of one whole & could not be separated. P.274
3. The Dialectic in Marx & Engels
a. Marx & Engels polemics against the Young Hegelians between 1843-47:
i. The Holy Family
ii. The German Ideology
iii. Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of State
iv. Introduction to a Contribution to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
v. Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts
vi. Theses on Feuerbach
vii. The Poverty of Philosophy
viii. The Condition of the English Working Class
ix. The Communist Manifesto
b. “Even the most abstract theoretical concept ultimately has its roots in real existence…we must begin with the real world” p.64
c. “It is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness”
d. “In order to supersede the idea of private property, the idea of communism is enough. In order to supersede private property as it actually exists, real communist activity is necessary” Marx, Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts, 1844
e. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it”
f. “Ultimately Marx & Engels’ view of human beings’ ability to shape society & to interact with the natural world was based upon their view of human labour. [They] regarded it as one of Hegel’s great achievements to have recognised that human beings create their world through their own labour, even though Hegel only understood this as mental labour.” P.70
g. “…the first premise of all human existence &, therefore, of all history, [is] that men must be in a position to live in order to be able to ‘make history’. But life involves before everything else, eating & drinking, housing, clothing & various other things.” Marx, The German Ideology
h. “Labour is, first of all, a process between man & nature, a process by which man, through his own actions, mediates, regulates, & controls the metabolism between himself & nature. He confronts the materials of nature as a force of nature. He sets in motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, his legs, head & hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs. Through this movement he acts upon external nature & changes it, & in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature.” Marx, capital Vol. I 1867
i. “…what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax.” Marx, capital Vol. I 1867
j. “The aims of consciousness & the materials that make their realisation possible are given by the natural & social circumstances in which human beings find themselves.” P.71
k. “The simple elements of the labour process are (1) purposeful activity, that is work itself, (2) the object on which that work is performed, & (3) the instruments of that work” Marx, capital Vol. I 1867
l. “Men make their own history, but not of their own free will; not under circumstances they themselves have chosen but under given & inherited circumstances with which they are directly confronted” Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, 1852
m. “Consciousness no longer stands outside being & is no longer separated from its object…Consciousness is determined by the transformation of being; but, as the consciousness of acting men, it in turn transforms this being. Consciousness is no longer consciousness above an object, the duplicated ‘reflection’ of an individual object, but a constituent part of changing relations, which are what they are only in conjunction with the consciousness that corresponds to their material existence. Consciousness is the self-knowledge of reality, an expression & part of the historical process of being, which knows itself at every stage of development.” Franz Jakubowski, Ideology & Superstructure, 1936
n. “In order to combat a widespread misunderstanding, it must be stressed that the superstructure is real…[it] is no less real than its base…There are in fact two forms of reality: the material reality and the ‘ideal’ reality (i.e., the reality of human ideas). Political and legal superstructure are as real as the base. Both are social relations consisting of human relationships. Both exist in the idea, both are also material realities. As Marx said in The Holy Family, ‘The communist workers know full well that property, capital, money, wage labour etc. are in no way the mere creations of their imagination but are the extremely concrete and practical results of their own self-alienation’, and the same is true of non-economic relationships. The reality of social ideas, then, forms a necessary and constituent part of the material reality of social relationships. Material relations are what they are only in conjunction with the ideas which correspond to them. The reality of both is expressed by their social efficacy.” Franz Jakubowski, Ideology & Superstructure, 1936
o. “…practice contains both consciousness & materiality.” P.74
p. Dialectical development is a feature of the natural world as well as the social world p.74
q. There is a distinction between a dialectic where consciousness is present & one where it is absent. P.76
r. Nature has a history, it changes & develops over time p.77
s. To make sense of the human capacity to shape the world, we have to understand the constraints under which human beings exercise this capacity. P. 78
t. Marx complained that the Young Hegelian & French socialist theories were ahistorical & abstract
u. The very first point Marx & Engels make is that the conception of human freedom…has actually been denied, or partially denied, by the conditions under which human beings have laboured for most of their history.
v. It is the circumstances in which human beings find themselves that requires a dialectical analysis, not just the ideas that people have about themselves p.79
w. “In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of the material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal & political superstructure & to which correspond definite forms of consciousness…At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.” Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859
x. Society is taken to be in a process of total constant change. Such change involves the totality of relations – economic, political, ideological & cultural – of which the society is composed. This process of total change is a result of internal contradictions, manifested as class antagonism, which reconstitute society anew by both transforming & renewing the forces that first gave rise to the initial contradiction. P.83
y. “…not criticism but revolution is the driving force of history, also of religion, of philosophy & all other kinds of theory” Marx, The German Ideology, 1845
z. “All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority.” The Communist Manifesto
aa. “Proletariat & wealth are opposites; as such they form a single whole. They are both creations of the world of private property.” Marx, Holy Family, 1845
bb. “Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, & for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a mass movement, a revolution; the revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of the muck of ages & become fitted to found society anew.” The German Ideology, 1845
cc. The dialectic of human history finally opens up the possibility of achieving in the running of society what is implicit in humans’ ability to labour: the conscious direction of their world. P.87
i. The theory explains how the most characteristic feature of human beings, their ability to transform consciously the world around them, is turned into its opposite, a system that escapes the control of those who live under it. P.87
ii. “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently also controls the means of mental production, so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it.” Marx, The German Ideology, 1845
iii. This is why the media isn’t ‘balanced’, why the state isn’t ‘neutral’ or the education system ‘value-free’
iv. The economic & political power of the ruling class inevitably has its counterpart in the ruling classes’ control over the ideological levers of society.
v. Procapitalist views of the Labour Party & trade unions misled the working class. They do not exist to challenge the system, but to bargain within it. We get crumbs instead of the cake.
vi. 2 great cleavages:
1. Capitalist class v working class
2. Capitalists competing against one another
vii. For the first time in human history, the mass of the labouring classes have completely lost control over the means of production & the products of their labour
viii. A rigid division between domestic & working life
ix. The division of labour is dehumanising
x. We are alienated from our fellow human beings
xi. There is no commodity as powerful as the commodity that controls all commodities: money p.91
i. Based upon the separation of workers from the means of production
ii. Social relations are disguised by commodity relations – the market
iii. What are actually human class relations appear as relations between inanimate products of labour: commodities
iv. The market is under no conscious control of any individual, group of individuals or institution
ff. For Hegel the true reality of the world was to be found in concepts & so any material object must be a form of alienation p. 96
gg. Marx’s understanding of human labour led him to see objectification as a natural human attribute. The process could only become alien under certain specific social circumstances, such as class society in capitalism
hh. Because alienation is a product of social circumstances, it can be ended by changing those circumstances
ii. “Science would be superfluous if the outward appearance & the essence of things directly coincided” Marx, Capital, Vol. III
jj. The market is not a mere illusion but a real social institution that grows out of the relations of production while at the same time disguising its links with them. The market appearances are no less ‘real’ than the internal structures of capitalist exploitation. P.99
kk. “Society is no solid crystal, but an organism capable of change, & constantly engaged in a process of change” Marx, Capital, Vol. I, 1867
ll. “Modern industry never views or treats the existing form of a production process as the definitive one. Its technical basis is therefore revolutionary, whereas all earlier modes of production were essentially conservative.” Marx, Capital, Vol. I, 1867
mm. Marx presents capitalism as a totality whose process of change is governed by the nature of the contradiction at its heart. It is a society that contains the seeds of its own destruction & the embryo of a new society. P.102
nn. The means of production are now socially & collectively worked, in a more conscious & planned way than ever before, but they are still controlled by private, competing capitalist owners. P.102
oo. “The centralisation of the means of production & the socialisation of labour reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. The integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” Marx, Capital, Vol. I, 1867
pp. “The conclusion we reach is not that production, distribution, exchange & consumption are identical, but that they all form the members of a totality, distinctions within a unity.” Marx, Grundisse
qq. “The conditions of direct exploitation, & those of realising it, are not identical. They diverge not only in place & time, but also logically.” Marx, Capital, Vol. III
rr. Simple commodity production is the historical point of origin for capitalist society & remains the most basic unit of analysis in the mature capitalist system. P. 112
ss. Marx argues two point. On the one hand, independent conceptual effort is necessary to make sense of the system: “The totality as it appears in the head, as a totality of thoughts, is the product of the thinking head, which appropriates the world in the only way it can”. And the way in which the head does this is “a product…of the working-up of observation & conception in concepts.” But, on the other hand, Marx insists that this method should not be confused with the kind of “philosophical consciousness” for which “the conceptual world is the only reality” & “the movement of categories appears as a real act of production – which only, unfortunately, receives a jolt from the outside – whose product is the world.” On the contrary, “the real subject retains its autonomous existence outside the head just as before; namely as long as the head’s conduct is merely speculative, merely theoretical. Hence, in the theoretical method, too, the subject, society, must always be kept in mind as the presupposition.” P. 114
tt. The Marxist Method:
i. From Hegel:
1. The world is in a constant process of change
2. The world is a totality
3. The totality is internally contradictory
ii. Human beings have developed form the natural world & are still dependent upon it. The human ability to labour & to direct consciously that labour was a product of the natural process of evolution. Human beings were not alienated by producing objects but by not being able to produce objects freely. The possibility of doing this was only a recent historical conquest, based upon the level of production attained by capitalist society. Humans are part of nature, but also distinct & unique. This is a unity of opposites.
iii. The dialectical pattern in the natural world & the social world are different but related. For Hegel they were identical.
iv. Alienation is more severe under capitalism than feudalism
v. The dialect of the social world needs to take into account all the complexity & unevenness of real history
4. The First Crisis of Marxism
a. Second International formed in 1889
b. German SDP
i. Liebknecht & Bebel were Marxists, joined together with the reformist Lasalle (Gotha Programme)
ii. In 1891 the Erfurt Programme was adopted. It had two parts:
1. Part One was written by Kautsky & was based upon the Communist Manifesto
2. Part Two was written by Bernstein calling for immediate reforms
iii. Electoral growth:
1. 1887 – 10.1% of vote in Reichstag elections
2. 1890 – 19.7%
3. 1893 – 23.3%
4. 1898 – 27.7%
5. 1903 – 31.7%
iv. Bernstein argued that capitalism was becoming less prone to economic crises because cartels & monopolies, the increased speed of communications, & the growth of the credit system all weakened the anarchic tendencies of the market. He also thought Marx’s theory of value to be wrong.
1. Rees criticises Bernstein’s ‘theoretical grasp’ & says ‘he does not seem to realise that all science generalises & abstracts from ‘empirically verifiable facts’. Indeed, the very concept of ‘fact’ is itself an abstraction…mental generalisation that distinguishes actually existing phenomena from mental conceptions’
2. Bernstein invoked Kant as the bearer of an alternative moral motivation for socialism
v. The SDP led the German working class to the disasters of WWI, the failed revolution of 1918-23, & the fight against fascism
i. Knew Marx personally & worked closely with Engels
ii. Marx referred to Kautsky as ‘a small-minded mediocrity who busies himself with statistics, without deriving anything intelligent out of them’
iii. Kautsky founded Die Neue Zeit; editor for 35 years
iv. He wanted SDP deputies to vote against war credits, but went along with the majority when they refused
d. Neither Kautsky nor Bernstein appreciated Marx’s great discovery of the working class as the subject-object of history, the class that is both a necessary product of historical development &, at the same time, its determining force p.141
i. At first was a Narodnik (means ‘Friends of the people’)
ii. 1883 fled to Geneva & founded the first Russian Marxist organisation – the Emancipation of Labour Group
iii. Freedom must be redefined so that it equals knowledge of ‘the direction of the forces of society’.
iv. He disagreed with Lenin’s activist notion of the party, then with the notion that a workers’ revolution was possible, then the internationalist position on WWI, & ultimately with the October Revolution
f. Rosa Luxemburg
i. Rejected Bernstein’s argument that capitalism was becoming increasingly crisis free & democratic
ii. She understood that the so-called democratic institutions were the instruments of the ruling class: “…the conquest of a parliamentary reformist majority is a calculation which, entirely in the spirit of bourgeois liberalism, preoccupies itself with one side – the formal side – of democracy, but does not take into account the other side, its real content. All in all, parliamentarianism is not a directly socialist element impregnating gradually the whole capitalist society. It is, on the contrary, a specific form of the bourgeois class state, helping to ripen & develop the existing class antagonisms of capitalism.” Luxemburg, Social Reform or Revolution, 1900
iii. “…people who pronounce themselves in favour of the method of legislative reform in place of & in contradistinction to the conquest of political power & social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer & slower road to the same goal, but a different goal…If we follow the political conceptions of revisionism…our programme becomes not the realisation of socialism but the reform of capitalism: not the suppression of wage labour, but diminution of exploitation, that is, the suppression of the abuses of capitalism instead of the suppression of capitalism itself.” Luxemburg, Social Reform or Revolution, 1900
iv. The importance of battles for reform is they work on the subjective precondition for socialism – the class consciousness of workers
v. “It is not true that socialism will arise automatically from the daily struggle of the working class. Socialism will be a consequence of:
1. The growing contradictions of the capitalist economy, &
2. The comprehension of the working class of the unavoidability of the suppression of these contradictions through a social transformation.
When, in the manner of revisionism, the first condition is denied & the second rejected, the labour movement finds itself reduced to a simple co-operative & reformist movement. We move here in a straight line toward the total abandonment of the class viewpoint.” Luxemburg, Social Reform or Revolution, 1900
vi. “The proletariat is dependent in its actions upon the degree of maturity to which social evolution has advanced. But again, social evolution is not a thing apart from the proletariat; it is in the same measure its driving force & its cause as well as its product & effect. And although we can no more skip a period in our historical development than a man can jump over his own shadow, it lies within our power to accelerate or retard it.” Luxemburg, The Crisis in German Social Democracy (The Junius Pamphlet), 1915
vii. Luxemburg’s mistake was to believe that the SDP could be won to revolutionary socialism & not see that it would have to be replaced by an independent organisation not dependent upon bureaucratic trade unions. P.163
5. Lenin & Philosophy
a. “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary practice”
b. “Freedom is the appreciation of necessity, far from assuming fatalism, determinism in fact provides a basis for reasonable action” Lenin, The Economic Content of Narodism, 1895
c. The neo-Kantian movement was the philosophical background to the debate between Lenin & Bogdanov. Neo-Kantian epistemology emphasises the unbridgeable gap between our sense perceptions & the real world.
d. Science is necessary because the appearance of society is different to its underlying structure. A conceptual effort is necessary to uncover the real causes of change that lie beneath the surface. The workings of the market tend to disguise the real nature of the class relations. P.182
e. “The aim of [Lenin’s] work in the realm of philosophy was to master the method of transforming philosophy into a concrete guide to action.” Krupskaya (Lenin’s wife)
f. “It is impossible completely to understand Marx’s Capital, & especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied & understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!” Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38
g. “The splitting of a single whole & the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence of dialectics” Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38
h. The important thing about a Marxist understanding of the distinction between the appearance of things & their essence is twofold:
1. By delving beneath the mass of surface phenomena, it is possible to see the essential relations governing historical change…but,
2. This does not mean that surface appearances can simply be dismissed as ephemeral events of no consequence.
In revealing the essential relations in society, it is also possible to explain more fully than before why they appear in a form different to their real nature. P.187
i. “Ideas become a power when they grip the people” Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 26
j. For Lenin practice overcomes the distinction between subjective & objective & the gap between essence & appearance. P.191
6. The Legacy of Lukács
a. Two main books:
i. History & Class Consciousness, 1923
ii. Lenin, 1924
b. Istvan Meszaros was taught by Lukács
c. Hungarian Revolution:
i. January 1918 saw a General Strike with 150k demonstrating in Budapest calling for workers’ councils
ii. 22nd-27th June another General Strike
iii. 1st November Autumn Rose Revolution
iv. Dual power: real power lay with the workers’ councils not the Karolyi government, but the Hungarian revolutionaries were weak compared to the Bolsheviks
v. Hungarian Communist Party formed by Bela Kin in November; which Lukács joined
vi. In February 1919 the CP called for an insurrection eventhough they didn’t have a majority in the workers’ councils; the resulting crackdown saw Bela Kun jailed by the socialist government
vii. Bela Kun released at end of March after agreeing to merge the CP with the SDP & form a ‘revolutionary’ government
viii. The working class remained under reformist leadership, but with a communist gloss; the peasants & the nationalities were driven into the camp of the counterrevolution by the government’s attitude p.209
ix. Admiral Horthy’s white terror resulted in the execution of 5k, jailing of 75k & another 100k fleeing the country
x. Lukács fled to Vienna
d. History & Class Consciousness
i. Based upon the revolutions of Hungary, Russia & Germany
ii. Labour, under capitalism, has become measurable, comparable, abstract & exchangeable; with this comes the division of labour
iii. The aim of any genuine working-class organisation…should be to help workers in their struggle to overcome this fragmentation & to see the connections between different aspects of society…it is the workers’ council that can fulfil this task most completely because it is the organised form of workers’ power, a workers’ state as a weapon against the bourgeois state. P.215
iv. “The Soviet system…always establishes the indivisible unity of economics & politics by relating the concrete existence of men…to the essential questions of society as a whole” Lukács, Lenin, 1924
v. “The workers’ council spells the political & economic defeat of reification.” Lukács, History & Class Consciousness, 1923
vi. The bourgeoisie can no more prevent periodic economic crises than can the working class; it, too, is subject to an alien force it cannot control. P.216
vii. Marx’s great discovery was to see that history is driven forward by class struggle. P.219
viii. If the bourgeoisie were to break through the reified appearance of capitalist society, I would have ripped the mask from its own crisis-ridden system & so be forced to admit that its fundamental faults can only be remedied by ending the rule of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie would have to announce its own dissolution. There is no such barrier between the class interests of the working class & a clear, scientific understanding of society. When the working class breaks through the same reified appearance, it sees its own labour as the basis on which society rests. Its liberation is seen to be the liberation of humanity from a chronically, necessarily crisis-racked world. P.219
ix. The unique position of the working class is a result of the fact that labour power is the commodity on whose sale the whole system rests. P.219
x. The working class is both the subject & object of history, both the creation & the creator of the historical process. But there is all the difference in the world between workers being in a position from which it is possible to gain this consciousness of society & workers actually developing such consciousness…How do workers move from the everyday consciousness, which is dominated by commodity fetishism, to the consciousness that is possible, given the workers’ class position & the class interests that flow from that position? P.220
xi. Lukács gives an important role to both economic crises & the revolutionary party
xii. The capitalist cannot separate the owner of labour power from the labour power itself. P.221
xiii. …revolutionary consciousness depends, not exclusively but nevertheless to an important degree, on the depth of the economic crisis. The more ruthlessly the capitalist class is obliged to attack the wages & conditions of the working class, the more likely it is that the contradiction at the heart of the productive process will reveal the true nature of capitalist society to those who have to sell their labour power. P.223
xiv. Changes in class consciousness are uneven; workers in different countries, industries, unions, & workplaces go into battles of different intensities at different times & emerge with different degrees of class consciousness. P224
xv. “Organisation is the form of mediation between theory & practice.” Lukács, History & Class Consciousness
xvi. It is precisely because the economic & social preconditions for revolution are often realised before workers are conscious of the revolutionary opportunity before them that the struggle against reformist political currents, which inhibits the development of such consciousness, is so important. P.226
xvii. “the unions tend to take on the task of atomising & depoliticising the movement & concealing its relation to the totality,” whereas reformist parties “perform the task of establishing the reification in the consciousness of the proletariat both ideologically & on the level of organisation.” Lukács, History & Class Consciousness
xviii. Lukác’s insistence on the independence of the revolutionary party did not mean that the party should not relate to non-party workers, attempt to lead them, & increase their political confidence & combativity.
xix. The party has to learn from, as well as lead the class
xx. Lenin’s conception of the party contains two fixed poles: “the strictest selection of party members on the basis of their proletarian class consciousness, & total solidarity with & support for all the oppressed & exploited within capitalist society”
xxi. All truth is relative…There is no final, faultless, criterion for truth which hovers, like god, outside the historical process…All that exists are some theories which are less internally contradictory & have greater explanatory power than others. P.235
xxii. Practice is the test of theory
xxiii. Practice: the point where the theory & the consciousness of the working class meet. P.236
e. Gramsci (1891-1937)
i. Compared to Lukács he had a much greater feel for the concrete ways in which philosophical ideas interact with both social circumstances & the existing ideologies of various classes in capitalist society. P.241
ii. He understood contradictory consciousness as something within classes, sections of classes & even in individuals. P.241
iii. It is the task of Marxists to intervene in the class struggle, both practically & ideologically, to help in the formation of a more coherent class consciousness. “Organic intellectuals” rooted in the life of the masses, speaking their language, & able to use every turn of events to raise their consciousness. P242
iv. Gramsci never made any consistent study of the economic roots of class consciousness. He provided no overall explanation for where the conservative or progressive sides of contradictory consciousness originate. To provide a fully convincing explanation of contradictory consciousness, a theory of alienation & commodity fetishism is necessary. P.243
f. The Marxist method has three key terms:
i. Immediacy – the condition in which we confront the world in our day-to-day lives. This immediate, reified appearance is very different to its underlying structure
ii. Totality – isolated, discrete facts, or even partial theories, can only be fully understood in the context of the whole. To see ‘facts’ as dynamic processes related to a constantly changing totality. “the developing tendencies of history constitute a higher reality than the empirical facts” Lukács, History & Class Consciousness
iii. Mediation – involves looking at the various subordinate totalities into which the individual processes must be integrated before they can be absorbed into the global process of historical change. The process of ‘becoming’.
g. The presence of consciousness…marks a qualitative difference between the dialectic in society & that in nature. P.252
7. Trotsky & the Dialectic of History
a. Influenced by Labriola, “Ideas do not fall from heaven, & nothing comes to us in a dream”.
b. Both the Second International & Stalinism give Marxism a fatalistic quality
c. The reason why formal logic is often forced to abandon its own procedures in the face of facts is that it attempts to analyse a living, evolving reality with static concepts. P.272
d. The dialectic in history – the contradiction between the forces & relations of production, the clash of the class struggle – cannot have a structure identical to the intellectual process by which we come to understand history. The dialectical method involves analytically separating a chaotic social whole into various constituent economic formations, classes, institutions, personalities, & so on. It then involves showing how these factors interrelate & contradict each other as part of a totality. Such an intellectual operation gives us a finished picture of the dialectic in history, but it is not itself the same as that dialectic. P.275
e. “What does logic express? The law of the external world or the law of consciousness? The question is posed dualistically, [and] therefore not correctly [for] the laws of logic express the laws of consciousness in its active relationship to the external world. The relationship of consciousness to the external world is a relationship of the part to the whole” Trotsky, Trotsky’s Notebooks
f. There is no impenetrable barrier between ‘nature’ & ‘human society’. Human beings battle for survival is, as Marx put it, the “everlasting, nature-imposed condition of human existence.” Humans are part of the natural world & any attempt to try & break that results in dualism.
g. “Dialectics is the logic of development. It examines the world – completely & without exception – not as the result of creation, of a sudden beginning, the realisation of a plan, but as the result of motion, of transformation. Everything that is became the way it is as a result of lawlike development…the organic world emerged from the inorganic, consciousness is a capacity of living organisms depending upon organs that originated through evolution. In otherwords, ‘the soul’ of evolution (of dialectics) leads in the last analysis to matter. The evolutionary point of view carried to a logical conclusion leaves no room for either idealism or dualism, or for the other species of eclecticism.” Trotsky, Trotsky’s Notebooks
h. “All evolution is a transition from quantity to quality…whoever denies the dialectical law of transition from quantity into quality must deny the genuine unity of plants & animal species, the chemical elements, etc. He must, in the last analysis, turn back to the biblical act of creation.” Trotsky, Trotsky’s Notebooks
i. Marx only insisted that the struggle between classes is inevitable, but not its outcome. Dialectical history is a tendency, not a deterministic law… p.279
j. “Individuality is a welding together of tribal, national, class, temporary & institutional elements…” & “…what forms a bridge from soul to soul is not the unique, but the common…” Trotsky, Literature & Revolution
k. “…dialectical materialism…has nothing in common with fatalism.” Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution
l. What gave Lenin or Cromwell or Robespierre the ability to make an individual contribution to history was the great power of the movements from which they rose. P.283
m. The theory of permanent revolution marked an important break with the determinism of the Second International. Later it became the cornerstone of Trotsky’s fight against Stalin’s fatalistic theory of ‘socialism in one country’. Any analysis of the revolutionary potential of backward countries must start from the totality of capitalist development on a world scale. The interconnectedness of the different parts of the totality. P283
n. Nature & society are ‘a unity’, but they are not identical. They are a ‘differentiated unity’. Each sphere also produces its own special processes & laws. P.286
a. 1956 & the birth of the New Left after Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s ‘cult of personality’ & the Russian invasion of Hungary
i. Anti-Vietnam war movement
ii. Anti-nuclear movement
b. Louis Althusser’s Structural Marxism attacked Marxist humanism
c. Structuralism objected to the idea that history was intelligible from the point of view of the human subject
d. Maoism tarnished by the Cultural Revolution
e. Marx’s distinction between a class ‘in itself’ & a class ‘for itself’ is based upon the distinction between the class & class consciousness
f. Jean-Francois Lyotard – no necessary connection between thought & reality
g. Althusser paved the way for analytical Marxism
h. The link between the revolutionary potential of the working class & the need to build a revolutionary organisation to overcome the unevenness of working class consciousness & learning the lessons of history. Formed from the working class by the working class to help generalise & organise the struggle of the whole class, it is itself a dialectical organism. P301
My summary notes of John Rees’ Strategy & Tactics.
Introduction: What is to be done?
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways, the point is to change it” Marx, 11th thesis on Feuerbach
The unity of theory & practice
Which class & what political actors in that class are capable of making change happen?
What are we aiming for?
1. “By tactics in politics, we understand, using the analogy of military science, the art of conducting isolated operations. By strategy, we understand the art of conquest, i.e. the seizure of power” Trotsky
2. Strategy & tactics from military theorist von Clausewitz
3. Tactics are subordinate to strategic goals
4. Second International had abandoned the goal of socialist revolution
5. Lenin liked to quote Napoleon’s advice: “Let’s engage in battle & then we’ll see”.
6. At a certain point, all theoretical, strategic & tactical disputes can be resolved only in practice.
Whose strategy, whose tactics?
Need to start with the social structure
Economic & political subordination breeds passivity & fatalism – alienation.
The system also produces revolt.
In reality, there’s always a battle between where the workers’ interests lie:
– combating the system
– accepting the system
Workers interests v their consciousness
– just like smokers
– peer group pressure, family, education system, media
Most of the workers, most of the time have ‘contradictory consciousness’ (Gramsci)
We must find those organisations, slogans & ideas that counteract conservatism & passivity among workers.
Trotsky’s 5 workers: 1 revolutionary, 1 reactionary, 3 that can be swayed
Unite the 1 in 5 with a paper & hold meetings that develop explanations of the world & organise action, so they can be clearer & tougher about their politics & win over their fellow workers.
Uneven consciousness & need for a ‘vanguard’ organisation
“The militant minority must assemble in the form of an organisation” Georg Lukacs
Labour Party tries to be a broad party. They are big but are politically divided between a radical minority & a conservative majority.
How should the vanguard relate to, aim to organise, & strive to win over the rest of the working class?
How does the vanguard avoid becoming a sect?
Sectarianism & liquidationism
Without organisational independence, revolutionaries will be tied to the more conservative layers of the working class
But an independent revolutionary organisation must relate to the wider struggles of the working class
Social democratic parties are shaped by the rhythm & direction of electoral & reformist politics
Tony Cliff’s picket line example: racist remark from fellow striker. To ignore it is liquidationist (you abandon your own anti-racist politics); to protest & walk away is sectarian (you demonstrate your principles but weaken the strike); the right thing is to argue but stay on the picket line & link-arms when the strike-breakers arrive.
Political organisation & class struggle
The vanguard cannot substitute itself from the working class as a whole
The party does not & cannot make the revolution
The vanguard must learn from the working class, but it must also unite what it learns with the totality of the revolutionary struggle.
The totality of the struggle is the accumulated historical experience of the working class in its battle with capitalism. How capitalism works, how imperialism works.
The revolutionary organisation is ‘the memory of the class’ & ‘the university of the class’.
Only practice will tell if we have learnt the right lessons.
The party both learns from & summarises the past experience of the struggle.
It proposes action based on what it has learnt.
And it assesses the correctness of these proposals according to what it learns anew from its conscious attempt to intervene in the struggles of workers.
Timing in revolutionary politics
Events are constantly changing.
What a revolutionary organisation may be able to achieve at one time may not be achievable even a short time later.
Shakespeare & the tide in the affairs of men.
Seizing the key link
Lenin: the art of politics lies in finding & taking as firm a grip as we can of the link in the chain that is least likely to be struck from our hands, the one most important at the given moment, the one that most guarantees its possessor the possession of the whole chain.
Lenin: Anybody who tackles the partial problems without having previously settled general problems, will inevitably & at every step come up against those general problems without realising it. To come up against them blindly & in every individual case means to doom one’s politics to the worst vacillation & lack of principle.
What are cadre?
Tactical flexibility is only possible for an organisation that has a high degree of unanimity about its basic principles, & this requires a stable group of members who understand & transmit these ideas to other comrades & across the generations.
The cadre of the organisation gives it stability, durability & effectiveness in the struggle.
But cadres can produce their own organisational conservatism.
Cadre only remain cadre if they continue to relate correctly to the turning points in the struggle.
Propaganda & agitation
Two broad tasks: educate & organise
Propaganda: the need for collective ownership
Agitation: slogans for simpler & direct ideas, e.g. “strike now for more pay”, “troops out!”
In between there is concrete propaganda: a demand which the majority of workers think is possible & desirable, but which alone, they do not have the power to enact, e.g. a windfall tax on profits
Need to listen to the workers
Lenin: propaganda & agitation is not enough, the masses must have their own political experience.
The united front
A limited political agreement for common action, not a programme for general political unity.
In the united front the working class parties set the direction; in the popular front, the working class parties are reduced to tailing a policy set by bourgeois parties.
The vanguard must always be in touch with the rearguard.
Can’t ‘leap over’ the current consciousness of the class.
Marxism & the trade unions
Trade union slogan: unity is strength; united we stand, divided we fall
Trotsky’s 5 workers metaphor
Trade union bargain within the capitalist system, hence they inevitably compromise
Officials often end up with better pay & conditions than those they represent
Trotsky: with the masses – always; with the vacillating leaders – sometimes, but only so long as they stand at the head of the masses.
The Marxist method
Marxists: intellectual thought & practical politics go together
‘What is to be done’ is closely linked to Marxist philosophy
We can’t be sure of making the right judgements but the struggle itself provides the test
The facts require interpretation: Marx, “if appearance & reality coincided, there would be no need for science”.
As well as the struggle we also need theoretical experience. The interpretation of the struggle.
The starting point is the contradictory nature of our society. Uneven, contradictory consciousness requires the need for a vanguard organisation.
Capitalism: requires collective labour of workers to produce wealth, but capitalists privately appropriate that wealth.
1. Analyse the most general objective economic, social & political contradictions
2. Examine the contradictory forms of consciousness & organise these
3. Specify what forms of organisation, slogans & demands will advance the struggle
4. Develop organisational tools capable of realising these tactics
Lenin: only a concrete analysis of a concrete situation could be a guide to action
Lenin: the truth is always concrete. In each case, generalities may or may not apply.
The subjective element. Not just in assessing the workers’ consciousness, but the effects of our actions as organised revolutionaries.
Lukacs on Lenin: He studied in order to learn how to apply the dialectic; to learn how to discover, by concrete analyses of concrete situations, the specific in the general & the general in the specific; to detect the part in the whole & the whole in the part. Leninism represents a hitherto unprecedented degree of concrete, unschematic, unmechanistic, purely praxis-oriented thought. To preserve this is the task of the Leninist.
The Russian Revolution & the experience of the Soviet Union helps clarify two important aspects of political theory:
1. The nature of working class democracy
2. The stages involved in the transition to communism
The form of working class democracy was first clearly identified in what was the first workers’ revolution: the Paris Commune of 1871. This lasted just two months before the Communards were massacred in their thousands. The democracy of the Commune was not a parliamentary one. It was a working body as well as a law-making institution. Both executive & legislative. Not a talk-shop for puffed-up egos. Those holding office were paid the salary of an average manual worker. They could be recalled at any time. It was a much more participative democracy than the ‘vote once every five years’ so-called representative democracy of Westminster.
The Russian Revolution was not the first workers’ revolution. In 1871 the Communards set up the Paris Commune. It lasted for just two months before the French army massacred them. Between 10,000 to 20,000 were killed with many more put in prison & thousands deported. Lenin’s book State & Revolution, written a year before the October Revolution, has the experience of the Commune at its heart. He repeats Marx’s assertion that the Commune is the form of working-class democracy, not bourgeois parliament. It was to be the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ that waged on-going class struggle after the revolution to create the classless society of communism.
There was considerable debate in Marxist circles before the Russian Revolution as to whether Russia could have a proletarian revolution or not. Whether it should limit itself to a bourgeois revolution, like the French one. Marx being the scientist that he was, was open to the possibility; as we couldn’t know for sure, in advance, that it wasn’t possible.
However, given the fact that workers made up probably less than 5% of the population, a pure workers’ revolution didn’t seem realistic. But could an alliance with the peasants, rather than the emerging capitalist class, defeat the feudal class of landowners & continue to communism rather than stopping at capitalism? Trotsky, who was initially a Menshevik, not a Bolshevik, thought so & his theory of permanent revolution won over Lenin, who was initially sceptical. Lenin knew though that Russia could only be the ‘weak link’ in the world economy & that ‘socialism in one country’ wasn’t a possibility. The revolution had to spread, preferably to Germany, France & Britain for it to be successful. It didn’t, largely due to the reformism of the Social Democratic Party in Germany & the Labour Party in Britain. Not forgetting the involvement of British & other foreign troops in fermenting civil war.
The problem in politics is many people have a poor understanding of what drives human history. They have a view based upon idealism rather than science. In philosophical terms, idealism rather than materialism. They think that it is purely a battle of ideas without understanding the material basis for these ideas.
If we look at the broad brush of human history we see technological change as a driver of changes in economic systems: pre-agriculture hunter-gather societies, slave & feudal systems of agricultural societies & the capitalism of industrialised societies today. With these changes come changes in productive relations in society. With agriculture we get class based societies: those who control the land & those who work the land, e.g. landlords & serfs; with capitalism we get those who control (own) capital, whether in the form of factories or just money capital, & those who have to work – hence the class based nature of our society. As all profit ultimately comes from the workers’ labour, we have the class struggle between profit & wages.
The material conditions that shape political consciousness are changing. Despite the Tory election victory, politics is catching up with economics with increasing numbers disillusioned with the political system & capitalist exploitation. People no longer expect to see their standard of living improve & the younger generation are considered lucky if they have a job & a home. The system is failing increasing numbers. More than ever we need an alternative & if we present the case well we really can change the world.
The Material Conditions
Firstly, we need to understand the economics if we want to understand the politics. Finance capital is in a precarious position. For at least the last four decades it has reigned supreme with its neo-liberal ideology based on the free movement of capital & privatisation. The problem is it has been based upon debt, & this debt has now reached unsustainable levels. The crash of 2008 showed us its fragile nature. It is once again heading for a fall.
The pigs I am referring to are the pigs of George Orwell’s Animal Farm: the Communists. The animals that think they are ‘more equal’ than others. As a ‘pig’ myself, this is not an argument against pigs. Rather, I seek to answer the problem thrown up by ‘uneven consciousness’: how to give these people the organisation structure to intervene effectively in the class struggle & to spread their revolutionary class consciousness without them becoming a class in themselves?
As many are aware, this subject has a long history. The debate has centred upon the role of a workers’ state & the internal organisation of revolutionaries. The Paris Commune of 1871 was arguably the first ‘workers’ state’. Today revolutionary groups do not define themselves by it, but they still do in regards to the Soviet Union. For Stalinists it was a workers’ state, for many Trotskyists it was a ‘degenerated workers’ state’, for Anarchists is was a ‘coordinator class state’, for others it was a form of ‘state-capitalism’. Did the Soviet Union act in the interests of working class or not? This is an important question, but more than a quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall & a century after the Russian Revolution, it should surely not be a reason for revolutionaries to organising themselves in separate groups.